How to Read Food Labels to Find Allergens

If you have been diagnosed with an allergy to certain food products, reading the label will become second nature to you in order to protect your health. Or, perhaps you're in charge of making food for a family member, guest, or someone else who has an allergy and you need to know what to look for. Here are some suggestions.


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    Look for an announcement on the label itself. Many countries now have standard labeling for the most common types of food allergens. For example, a label might state "May contain traces of nuts, dairy, and soy", even though none of these ingredients were listed separately. On the other side, a label may make it absolutely clear that it is allergy-friendly, such as "Contains no soy or gluten".
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    Look for the words used for common allergens. This can be a bit trickier but it's important to know, especially where the label hasn't made it clear or you're still not sure whether the food is safe. Some common names to know include:
    • Milk: casein, whey, lactalbumin.
    • Egg: ovalbumin, albumen.
    • Peanuts: satay nuts, beer nuts, or arachis.
    • Soy: tofu, tempeh, tamari.
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    Realize that the term "may contain" is a catch-all. The manufacturer is often the one determining what "may contain" means and it could be as simple as the conveyor belt carrying products from completion to the loading deck (wrapped and therefore unlikely to cross-contaminate) to something as complex as using the same vat to mix ingredients straight after another product was mixed (meaning that despite cleaning, there may have been ingredients missed or not removed adequately). Companies like to cover all bases if there are any chances of cross-contamination.
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    If using products packaged overseas, know the local terminology for the allergens that you need to watch out for.
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    Ask the store, supermarket, or retailer to verify ingredients where there is no label. For example, bulk food items in food bins such as cereals, candies, cookies, etc., might not have an obvious label on them. While many stores try to ensure there is a label on the container, if there is not, ask or do not buy it. If there is any sign of hesitancy or lack of knowledge on behalf of the retailer, err on the side of caution and don't buy it.
    • In some countries, an information list of ingredients must be supplied on request.
    • Be aware that scoops, hands, and simple errors can transfer allergens between bulk food bins.

Things You'll Need

  • Labels
  • Reading glasses (if needed - some labels are very small print)

Article Info

Categories: Allergies and Immunization